To keep from going crazy and from taking a second mortgage out on my house to entertain them I started looking around my small town for things to do that are free or close to it. I work full-time and have a sitter keep the kids throughout the week, therefore I cannot afford to shell out a lot of money for activities so we have gotten creative. I set aside $30 to last the entire week for entertaining the kids and, amazingly enough that is plenty of money. Here are a dozen ways to treat your kids without breaking the bank:
- Free movie at the local movie theater – I know, right? Where was this when I was a kid? Check your local movie theater to see if they have a summer program and get a movie list. Ours plays at two different times (both in the morning) and on two different days. Plus, if you want to look like super Mom (and you forgot to bring the big purse to smuggle in treats), check to see what special they have for snacks. Our theater has a kids special for $5 where they get popcorn, a small drink, and a pack of candy.
- Story time at the library. This is 100% free and is usually fairly early in the day. Plus they can peruse the kids section while there and check out a few books to read (or you to read to them).
- Playtime at the park. There is nothing better than the feeling of soaring through the air on a swing feeling like you are going to kick the clouds; until you get into your 30s and vertigo starts to set in, in which case do not get on the swings. I try to take the girls either super early or pretty late so we are not out there in the heat of the day when the ice cream truck comes rolling through and the children swarm to it like moths to a sticky flame.
- Go on a “wishing adventure”. This is a super fun one that I save for a special escapade when the girls are being good but just need to get out of the house for a little while. I scoop up a handful of pennies and go into town where we have several fountains. We all take turns throwing pennies in and making our wishes then we tell each other what we wished for. It is great entertainment for literally pennies. Unfortunately none of my wishes have come true yet but I am still hopeful.
- Feed the animals at a local farm. We have one that is open to the public that you can park and feed the ducks, fish, even the goats and peacocks. I buy 2 loafs of old bread at the bread store for 50 cent a piece and pack waters for all of us. We can spend hours out there feeding the animals, looking for 4-leaf clovers, and talking to the people who own the place. Look online to see where the closest farm is to you and call to see if they allow visitors.
- Go on a picnic. Even on rainy days this is a good option. I move the dining room table to the side of the room and lay a blanket down. The girls will get their favorite toys and bring them over and play while we eat sandwiches, chips, and drink juice boxes. It really isn’t much different from our normal lunch except we are sitting on the ground, however the kids love it.
- Catch fireflies (or lightening bugs if you are from the South). Every night at dusk you can find me outside bobbing and weaving trying to snatch those little suckers up and trap them in a pickle jar. My kids adore doing this, and it keeps them from watching TV late at night. We do have one strict rule in my house; the fireflies have to be released before you go to bed so you can catch them again tomorrow.
- Hit up a local museum. Many are free to get into and have child-friendly art. In our little town we even have a train museum that boys go gaga for. If you don’t have a museum locally – make one. Buy some cheap paints and a ream of paper and let them go to town creating works of art. Once they are dry let them decorate their bedroom/playroom with their masterpieces and hold an art show for the family and friends to come see.
- Create an outdoor “water park” in your backyard using a sprinkler, squirt guns, kiddie pool, and buckets. My girls love anything water related and can spend hours squishing through the yard, jumping in the pool, and squirting each other. Plan on getting wet too, there is something liberating about soaking your Mom and running like hell.
- Set up a lemonade stand. I let the girls make the lemonade, decorate a poster with colored markers, stickers, and tape for the sign and take the play table outside for them to sit while waiting for customers. Of course I end up spending $3 on watered down Kool-Aid but it is well worth it to see their smiles. I also call my neighbors and ask them to come purchase a glass. By the end we usually have a fun gathering in the front yard of parents and kids, plus my girls “earn” a few dollars to spend on ice cream or another treat.
- Go on a scavenger hunt. You can do this any number of ways to either collect items or just locate them. Create cards with either the name or a picture of what to find (a pink flower, a squirrel, ladybug, etc). This is a fun activity that is best if you work together to keep it from turning into a competition.
- Do a “Movie Night” in your living room or backyard if you have a projector. Pop some popcorn, get their favorite candy, lay out blankets and pillows for all of you to lay on and turn on a movie. We always make sure to have our jammies on to make it feel more festive (and in case they fall asleep during the movie).
- Take the kids to the closest splash pad. Lots of towns are starting to get these, including the one I live in. These are great for kids to run around and get their energy out while you sit in the shade nearby. Pack a lunch and towels and plan to stay a while.
- VBS – I have yet to do this but a ton of my friends take their kids to vacation bible school. There are so many positives to this I probably cannot list them all. Most churches tend to space these out so they are not competing with too many other churches. They are free, wholesome, safe, kids love them and you don’t have to stay with the kids there. Some are in the daytime and others are in the evenings, depending on your schedule you can choose one that fits best for you and your little ones.
These are all activities we can do as a family and a range of ages will enjoy. If you live in a large town you can probably find even more fun things to do for free or close to it.
What activities are you doing this summer?